Animals must be protected
All too often we read about appalling cases of animal cruelty. Only in the last few days another example of this has come before the courts.
In recent years there has been progress in combating animal cruelty, but we have been once again reminded of the fact there is much still to be done.
Some time ago I brought a motion to the Assembly which resulted in a joint review by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice on the implementation of the Welfare of Animals Act.
This review was a very positive examination of the gaps in implementation of the legislation. Indeed, it led to legislative changes which increased the maximum sentences for those found guilty of animal cruelty.
It also allowed cases to be referred to the Court of Appeal when an unduly lenient sentence has been handed down.
Our good work in the Assembly is fatally undermined if perpetrators do not receive tough sentences.
While some of the judiciary have, rightly, used their increased powers, too often offenders of the most heinous crimes have walked away with fines and suspended sentences.
As legislators, there is a duty upon us to bring forward changes in the law.
However, the public voice is also vitally important.
We also need to ensure that animals are protected through the sharing of relevant data on offenders and effective communications between agencies, charities and those involved in the sale of animals.
We cannot allow the situation where convicted animal abusers are able to repeat offences by purchasing or adopting animals from innocent suppliers.
Just over a year ago I helped to launch the DUP's policy paper on animal cruelty, which called for the establishment of such a 'banned offenders' register.
This is a proposal that is now receiving cross-party support and I am confident that we will see such a central pool of information established so that animals are given the protection which they deserve.
Peter Weir is a DUP Assembly candidate in North Down